scaredy cat

Last weekend I watched The Woman In Black, a 2014 horror movie starring Daniel Radcliffe and Ciaran Hinds. All the reviews I read called it a “retro” thriller, and it was soon clear why. It did very much remind me of the scary movies I used to watch in as a teen. Moody lighting, a creepy house, a ghostly lady hell-bent on revenge… I was scared out of my wits, because I’m a giant chicken since The Ring ruined me forever, but it was neat to see that style of film return.

The first truly scary movie I ever saw was Night of the Living Dead. I was eight. My dad would rent a VCR and a huge stack of VHS tapes once a month or so, and he’d binge-watch hours upon hours of movies over the course of a cold or rainy weekend. Our house was really small, so the standing rule was “if you don’t want to watch [insert inappropriate movie title here] go play in your room or outside.”

Note that word “if”. I saw an awful lot of movies I probably shouldn’t have… then came Night of the Living Dead.

All I remember is that awful moment when a man goes down to the basement where his wife’s body is lying on a table… and there, harshly lit under a bare bulb, is his young daughter, chin smeared with blood as she feeds on her mother’s corpse.

I ran from the house, quite literally screaming, and spent the next hour riding my bike, trying in vain to erase that image from my head.

A few years later, I re-watched it and found out that the scene I remembered is near the end of the movie… meaning I had already sat through most of it before I freaked out and regretted my choice. This is a lifelong pattern with me and horror movies – I am simultaneously fascinated and repelled by them. I keep trying to watch them, and inevitably at some point I will get too scared. That’s the moment where I hide my eyes, or cover my head with a blanket, or shut the movie off.

Case in point. In seventh grade I was invited to a sleepover for a friend’s close-to-Halloween birthday. “We’ll be watching some scary movies!” she promised. I don’t know what I thought she meant by scary movies, but I know my mom was pretty horrified next morning when she picked me up, hollow-eyed and shaking, after watching The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby back to back.

I didn’t sleep with the light off for three weeks. TO THIS DAY, all I have to do is imagine that freaky mutilated demon-faced girl and I can picture her, clear as a bell, behind my eyelids. And I shudder.

Another time, I was at a party with some friends and they decided to watch Candyman. I remember nothing about it, except that I spent a fair bit of time hyperventilating.

I have tried – and failed – to watch so many horror movies. PoltergeistNightmare on Elm Street. The original Friday the 13th. Pet SemetaryCujoTexas Chainsaw Massacre. I’ve started them all, and given up in a sweaty panic.

I haven’t even attempted any of the “new wave” horror movies, not since The Ring. I went to see that one in the theatre with my husband. I would have run out of the theatre but I was actually frozen in terror; I couldn’t make my legs move. We lived in an apartment at the time, and when we got home, I had to wait in the hallway while he hung a towel over the TV screen just so I could walk run past it to the bedroom.

Husband: Don’t you think that if that girl wants to come out of our TV, she’ll just push the towel to one side?
Me: DO YOU WANT ME TO LIVE IN THIS HALLWAY FOREVER, JUST DO IT. AND TURN ON ALL THE LIGHTS.

Which movies scared you? Do they still scare you? Or are you one of those people who can watch anything, cackling with glee, and then you jump out from behind a door at your still-terrified friend after she has bravely gone to the bathroom all alone?

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5 thoughts on “scaredy cat

  1. My parents never watched horror movies; not claiming moral superiority, they just don’t care for them. As a result I never saw them as a kid, which was a good thing because I was a highly strung kid (much like you, it sounds like). Even when I was a teenager I refused to watch horror movies. Now as an adult, my reaction to scary movies is, “Oh, HELL no.” My mind can come up with plenty of real-life fears on its own; why would I want to ADD gory/demonic scenes to it?

    If I were playing psychologist, Hannah, I would ask why you keep watching them when you know it scares the crap out of you? Genuinely asking because I don’t get it.

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    • I think for me, it’s because they give me a safe / acceptable way to be really, really scared. I struggle with clinical anxiety – have all of my life – and it’s cathartic to just be petrified for a while without needing to explain myself or be embarrassed. “I’m terrified sitting at red lights in case the car behind me doesn’t stop & I’m killed in a fiery wreck” is less understandable to people than “I watched a scary movie and got all shaky & kept jumping in my seat”.

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      • Fair enough. As you probably remember, I struggle with clinical anxiety too, but have found it more helpful not to scare myself with things like horror movies, just as when I’m depressed, I avoid sad/dark content. I can see how it could be cathartic for you, though.

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  2. The scariest movie in the world, IMO, is The Shining. I watched it once, alone, in the basement, WITH THE LIGHTS OUT WHY DID I DO THIS and then my boyfriend came over to pick me up for a date. My mom had let him in and he opened the door to the basement and I screamed and screamed and screamed. GOD. To this day I shudder when I think of her picking up the papers with ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKE JACK A DULL BOY written over and over again.

    I had a friend who was really into scary movies for sleepovers, but I found them more gross and boring then scary. I think I must have zoned out when the movies were on because I don’t remember the plots – such as they were – at all.

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  3. I love scary movies. Not gross-out slasher movies, those are boring. I like well-written, clever scary movies – I thought The Ring was freaking brilliant, and it did scare me. Usually I find them more cerebrally entertaining than anything. My parents never watched scary movies either. Nightmare on Elm Street was pretty good – I watched it with my girlfriend and her mother and aunt, and their snarky commentary just added to the experience. Friday the 13th was pretty cheesy even the first time around. I’m not sure why I like them – something to do with the whole Aristotelian pity and fear catharsis thing, probably. I like horror lit for the same reason.

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